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A Homily for Easter 3 (B)

“Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts?”

The apostles of Jesus had something of an emotional rollercoaster ride at the first Easter. First they forsook him and fled, apart from John and the women, and then they couldn’t seem to make up their minds how to react to the rumours concerning his resurrection. John’s gospel tells the moving story about Mary Magdalene’s meeting with the risen Jesus and notes that she goes to tell the disciples as instructed without further comment. Mark agrees that it is Mary Magdalene and reports that she went to tell the disciples who, the writer notes, ‘were in mourning and tears’ and refused to believe her. Luke has a different recollection and says that the whole group of women came back from the tomb having been told about the resurrection by two angels. There is no note of Mary Magdalen’s meeting with Jesus, but Luke agrees that the witness of the women to the resurrection is not believed by the others. And then of course, in Luke’s Gospel, we have the lovely Emmaus story of Cleopas and his companion being joined by Jesus on the road, and finally recognizing him in the breaking of bread. They dash the seven miles back to Jerusalem, where they find that Jesus has already appeared to Simon Peter, and then, as they are still telling their story, Jesus appears to all of them and they are all dumbfounded as they get a bit of a telling off. Jesus stays long enough to eat fish with on at least two occasions and then ascends to the Father that they will be clothed with power from on high.

It must have been very difficult for them. Obviously, as we have often seen in our Sunday gospels, Jesus was a man of extraordinary charisma and attraction and people just followed him. He became for them, as God intended, the source of all teaching, comfort, inspiration and healing. Then, this man whom they learned to know as the Christ is betrayed by one of them, arrested by soldiers and executed. This must have shaken them to the core, despite Jesus’ predictions of his passion. Then, suddenly, there are stories of his resurrection, and, finally, the appearance of Jesus himself to all of them. They had not dared to hope that the cross was not the end of him, and they remained sceptical, and then shaken, as the evidence for his rising again mounted up.

It’s so much easier for us. We have the whole story, thanks to the Acts of the Apostles, and we know how out of the confusion of this immediate post-resurrection period the Church was born and Jesus’ presence became a permanent presence in the world of men. And yet, sometimes the Lord must look at each one of us and want to say, “Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts?” Our grip on the experience of being with Jesus is as shaky and lacking in confidence as that of the apostles. They forgot, or didn’t understand, or disregarded his plain teaching because of the horror of the Lord’s suffering and death. We do the same under the impact of habit, laziness and the assault of the teachings and pressures of the secular world. But Jesus comes to us as he came to them in a variety of ways and in a variety of people, so, if you are feeling agitated and doubtful, remember this:

We have the stories in scripture – don’t neglect to read them again and again, comparing the different stories about Jesus in the different gospels. Studying those differences gives a third dimension to the picture and brings us closer to the human drama of Jesus’ ministry. This helps us with the encounter with Christ in our hearts and in our prayers, it helps us to say ‘Rabbuni! Teacher!’ with Mary Magdalene and ‘My Lord and my God’ with Thomas. This encounter with Christ is deepened by the experience of the corporate prayer of the Church, literally fed in the holy mass, but also sustained by the Christ that we meet in each other and in the community as a whole. As our second reading tells us today, we cannot say that we know Jesus and not keep the commandments, and so we make Jesus present in a life well lived and also evoke him in the bonds that we form with our friends and our loved ones. Finally Christ the healer, the reconciler, is present whenever evil and sin are overcome by goodness, truth and justice, and the reign of God’s kingdom, which Jesus identified with himself, can be glimpsed in all beauty of the highest achievements of the human heart and mind. This dynamic presence of Christ in scripture, the liturgy, in prayer and in fellowship is not always in sharp focus for each of us and at every moment. These ways to Christ, these reflections of the kingdom come and go in our lives and sometimes one area predominates, and sometimes another, but they are all there all of the time for all of us and if we get doubtful and agitated, there is no reason for us to stay that way.

Hear again the words of today’s Collect:

May your people exult for ever, O God,
In renewed youthfulness of spirit,
So that, rejoicing now in the restored glory of our adoption, we may look forward in confident hope
To the rejoicing of the day of resurrection.

Exultation, renewed youthfulness, rejoicing, hope… These are gifts that the presence of Christ brings as we all wait for the resurrection. What a joy, what a joy.

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